Bessie Jones and the Georgia Sea Island Singers, “Get In Union”
By John Morrison · June 10, 2020

The legendary American folk singer Mary Elizabeth “Bessie” Jones was born in 1902 and spent her youth learning songs and folk tales from her grandfather Jet Sampson, a musician who had been enslaved in Africa and brought to the states alongside his five brothers. She became a popular folk musician, performing throughout the country and eventually landing such high-profile gigs as the Poor People’s March on Washington in 1968 and at President Jimmy Carter’s inauguration in 1976.

In the 1960’s, after decades of touring and performing, Jones joined forces with Big John Davis, Henry Morrison, and Willis Proctor to form the Georgia Sea Island Singers. Recorded in the early ‘60s, Get In Union displays the musical prowess of the group in fine form. The album includes traditional Black American folk and gospel songs from America’s coastal South. The opening track “Sheep Sheep, Don’t You Know The Road” is a gorgeous a cappella gospel piece; Jones takes the lead, providing a loosely swinging call that beckons the singers’ harmonious responses. “Let Me Fly” is a beautifully poetic song about finding salvation in the next life: “I have a sister in the promised land/ I never expect to stop until I shake her hand/ I’m not so particular about shaking her hand, I just wanna meet her in the promised land/ Lord, let me fly!” “Once There Was No Sun” is a rousing devotional meditation on the power of God and the glory of creation. Gospel music as an art form is primarily concerned with two modes of spiritual expression, devotion and salvation, and songs like ”You Better Mind,” “Plumb The Line,” and “Prayer” showcase Jones’s and the group’s ability to articulate the deep feeling of surrender and faith required for both.

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